Some passages pull us into their worlds and won’t let us go. Writers use a variety of techniques to hook us. The film producer and director Alfred Hitchcock popularized the “MacGuffin,” a device used to drive the plot in books as well as grab the attention of movie audiences. As I understand it, the “MacGuffin” is something the characters want, such as money or power. It’s a focal point early in the story when characters’ struggles and motivations are revealed. As the book progresses, the “MacGuffin” becomes less relevant, but it figures into the climax. It’s possible it could be completely forgotten by the end of a book. It’s just one way writers hook us. Some plant mysterious questions in the early parts of their books. Others entice us with intriguing characters, spell-binding dialogue or fascinating settings.
For our Staff’s Choice Clash we searched the first chapters of books to find excerpts that hooked us. There are so many great stories out there. It was a difficult task, but we’re hooked on these and think you will be too. They’re different, but equally spell binding. Vote, comment, and leave an encouraging word to be entered in the drawing for a copy of the book. For more interaction visit our Facebook page. On Wednesday, come back to read about our wonderful blog alliance partners.
Even smoke runs from fire.
But I find myself compelled to enter hell's havoc and the swirling chasm, to take for my own the taming of the element, screwing my courage to the sticking place. When blackness billows heaven-bent from hallways, and flame tips lick lintels like a serpent's tongue, the Sirens stand singing. Mast ties won't hold fast.
Enter the cloud.
Enveloped by heat.
Vanquish the destroyer.
I come from a family of firemen. And borne into my blood was a gift. It arrives at times in whispers, other times more subtle. But beyond the beckon of skeptical sensibilities I've become convinced.
The fire speaks to me.
I know where it is going. I know what it will do. Some call it heightened intuition. Others credit Irish luck. But I know that it's more.
And it was this very thing, this brash self-confidence, that propelled me down a fateful course one thirty-first of October.
* * *
Captain Butcher slammed his palm on the clipboard sliding off the dash. He cursed. "We ain't doing nobody no good if we don't get there alive, Aidan."
I winked at him, tightening and relaxing my grip on the steering wheel. His silver-laced moustache rowed back and forth like a set of oars. Our normal driver had taken the day off, so lucky for Butcher, I stepped up as acting operator.
I hung a hard right and the clipboard fell again. This time he missed. He grabbed the side of his door and slung my name with a slew of expletives.
I couldn't help but grin. "Nice alliteration, Cap."
"Nice what? Watch out. Slow down."
We threaded through the glowing Reno arch, under its mainstay mantra, The Biggest Little City in the World. South Virginia Street stretched out before our blaring Pierce Quantum pumper. I laid on the air horn through intersections and wound the grinder into a high wail. The burgundy hues of the autumn sunset filtered through the foothills, bathing building sides with amber tones and glinting windows.
A pillar of black cloud rose from the south.
Deep into District Three. We'd be third engine in, coming from downtown. I hated being anything but first in. But third was better than second. At least we wouldn't be stuck hooking up water supply.
Static crackled from the radio, "All units, be advised, we have reports of occupants trapped."
I pushed the pedal to the floor. The rig surged like an elephant charging. Cars and businesses passed as blurs. The guys in the back strapped on their packs, cranking open the air valves to the beep-beep-beep acknowledgment of the built-in motion sensors. Butcher flipped through the map book.
Another transmission, "Battalion Two, Engine Three on scene, large footprint concrete tilt-up, retail building, heavy smoke showing from the roof. We'll be in live-line operations."
It was McKinley. I heard the strain in his voice. Not high-pitched or excited, but almost muted. Like he was trying really hard not to sound high-pitched or excited.
He forced his eyes open and stared into the face of a man with a hat and a muffler wrapped around his mouth.
“Let go!” The man bellowed over the wind. Royce blinked against the snow dropping into his face.
“Falling...” The skin of his lips cracked and tore as he tried to talk.
“You weren’t falling! I was dragging you.”
Royce could barely hear the man over the wind.
“You have to walk. I can’t do this anymore.”
The man shoved Royce to his side. He thought he knew what the man wanted, but he couldn’t seem to make his muscles work. Everything was numb, as if his body was asleep.
The man pushed and pulled Royce to his feet before he tugged Royce’s arm over his shoulder. Groggily, Royce tried to focus on his feet. He had to keep them beneath him. He knew that. Survival was important. He had a job to do.
He’d been following a trail, following the boots, the small boots. As his eyes focused on his feet, he saw the shoes beside his. They were small.
Something clicked in Royce’s mind and sank deep into his thoughts. But before he could react, they came to a cabin. The little man pushed him through the door. Sudden warmth rushed over Royce. His skin tingled and his brain flashed red hot with anguish. He groaned.
“Don’t pass out on me, yet,” the little man commanded through the muffler. He slid a chair behind Royce and eased him into it. Royce flopped backwards and his head lolled.
“Wake up.” He grasped Royce’s coat and slapped his cheeks. “I can’t do this myself.”
Royce’s eyes flew open.
“Lift your arm.”
Royce obeyed, but all the while, his mind focused on one thing. This man, with the hat and muffler wrapped around his face, was his man, his midnight intruder. He knew that as surely as he knew his head hurt.
Slowly, he leaned to the side and his eyes closed. His rescuer jerked him forward and slapped him again.
“These have to come off.”
Royce nodded as he shoved at his pants and long johns. When they were off, the cabin’s owner threw a blanket over his body.
“Now you can lie down.” Royce half slid out of the chair onto a pile of pelts and blankets beside him.
The sudden comfort overwhelmed him. He wanted to close his eyes and slip away. But his blurry gaze focused on his rescuer as he unwrapped the muffler. He wanted…needed to see this man’s face, the man who had saved his life. He forced himself to watch as he pulled off the floppy gray hat.
Royce blinked. His foggy mind was playing tricks on him. A long, golden braid fell from beneath the hat and lay across the man’s shoulder. He slipped off the coat and beneath was the slender shape of a woman.
His man...his midnight visitor, was a woman! Shock filled Royce’s mind, and his head flopped senselessly sideways.